At the time of writing, the staff of the People’s Vote campaign have walked out of a meeting called by one of their senior figures who had just fired two other senior figures, after the first senior figure boycotted the meeting he had just called.
Sound confusing? Well, it is a bit.
In a nutshell, the group appears to be in the midst of a power struggle and one man, Roland Rudd (brother of former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, FYI), has been on a media blitz this morning to tell the world that nothing is wrong with the People’s Vote (PV) campaign even though something very clearly is.
Break it down for me – what is the People’s Vote?
People’s Vote is a grassroots campaign demanding a second EU referendum, largely made up of people who worked on the Remain campaign back in 2016.
Sounds pretty straightforward
Yes, you’d think that, but tensions over what the group should specifically campaign for have been simmering for a while.
PV is actually a coalition of five separate groups, including Open Britain and the European Movement UK.
Complicating matters, Rudd – who has pushed the movement towards campaigning for a full rerun of the 2016 referendum in an effort to keep Britain in the EU – calls himself the chairman of the movement, but this has recently been disputed.
So who is in charge?
Great question – and one that at the moment appears to be open to debate. But this hasn’t stopped Rudd acting like he’s the boss and firing two senior figures, James McGrory, the director, and Tom Baldwin, the head of communications, and replacing them on a temporary basis with Patrick Heneghan, Labour’s former head of communications.
Why did he do that?
This is where it gets really juicy. As noted above, Rudd has been in favour of moving PV towards explicitly campaigning for Remain, something that has encountered stiff resistance from some of this in the group, who don’t want to alienate members of the public who want to leave.
Rudd’s email to colleagues announcing the sackings alluded to the power struggle, saying: “As you will all understand the ongoing internal issues in the campaign have been allowed to carry on for too long. We now need a much clearer structure as we move forward.”
It’s also likely the move was prompted in part by emails leaked to the Daily Mail that show that two opponents of Rudd’s leadership, political heavyweights Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, have been plotting to topple him for months.
In one email Campbell describes the need for a “fast and brutal” public attempt to bring Rudd down.
Did it work?
Obviously not – the emails were sent in August and Rudd remains.
On Sunday evening, Campbell was keen to downplay Rudd’s role and the legitimacy of the firings, saying his role as PV chairman was self-styled and “never agreed upon” by the groups that make up the movement.
What did Rudd say?
Speaking to various news outlets on Monday morning, Rudd tried to dismiss the crisis engulfing PV, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I want to make clear, there’s no row about the Remain side and PV.
“Everyone knows where we stand on this.”
Tell that to the two guys who got sacked
Well, exactly. One of them, Tom Baldwin, also appeared on the Today programme and accused Rudd of putting a “wrecking ball” through the campaign while essentially refusing to be sacked.
He said the People’s Vote campaign “belongs to the people, not just one businessman”, adding: “It’s really not for him to tell the campaign what to do I’m afraid, particularly in a week as crucial as this one.”
Baldwin added: “And he’s making a mistake that I think a lot of businessmen do when they dabble in politics, which is to think that because they had a certain title on a board that they then own the campaign.”
Pressed further on whether Rudd sacked him, Baldwin said: “He technically controls my contract but he didn’t appoint me. He doesn’t pay me.”
What about this meeting on Monday morning?
During his appearance on Today, Rudd said he would be meeting with PV staff to clarify just what was actually going on, so staff went to work at their offices in Millbank to meet him.
Then it seems to have got weird. A PV source, speaking to HuffPost UK, said: “The staff team at People’s Vote are waiting to have the meeting as promised by Rudd on Today program this morning.
“Roland and Patrick are currently downstairs in Millbank Tower, refusing to meet staff. They called a meeting and are now boycotting it themselves.”
Just after midday, the official PV Twitter account lamented Rudd’s decision to appear on TV rather than meet staff, adding: ”...the last thing anyone needs is to be distracted by a few individuals playing boardroom politics.
“The team are not prepared to wait around indefinitely for Roland Rudd to come and provide answers to our questions, so the overwhelming majority of the staff team decided to leave the building together.”
Compounding the situation for Rudd, one PV staffer claimed even his assertions on national media that he was a regular visitor to the office were slightly wide of the mark.
So where does this leave us?
That’s anybody’s guess right now – HuffPost UK has contacted PV for clarification but had not received a reply at the time of writing.